Salt of the Earth and Bride of the Sea Sigalit Landau
Around 1930, Moshe Castel painted an oil painting called "Olive Harvest". At that time, it had been three years since the young artist arrived in Paris from Jerusalem, and in his paintings he returned to the landscapes of his childhood, to idyllic memories of Israeli-Arab life and nature. "Olive Harvest" shows Arab family members harvesting olives in an olive grove near an Arab village. It is springtime, Arab men in traditional garb are climbing ladders, Arab women are picking the fallen olives from the ground. It is another beautiful day in Palestine, somewhere in the Judean Mountains.
Not long after, during the 1930s, Reuven Rubin made a painting that is commonly referred to as "Biblical Landscape," although it represents an olive harvest. Reuven's brush is soft, the landscape "misty", and the oriental idyll is still the same: An olive grove, an Arab village in the distance, Arab men on ladders, women gathering the fruit. Only an inquisitive look will reveal that at the foot of the right ladder someone is taking a nap next to his donkey, while at the top of the ladder there is... an angel. Aha, "Jacob's Ladder"! Thus - "Biblical Landscape". We are still, therefore, in the Judean Reuven Rubin, Olive Harvest, oil on canvas Mountains, in Beit-El. In any case, Reuven's olive grove is a sacred site, which blends in harmoniously with the Eretz Yisrael-Palestinian idyll and even makes it sublime.
In the history of Israeli art, the olive tree is a well-known sign of stubborn and ancient rootedness. Such are the "wrinkles" of the knotted and perforated trunk in Anna Ticho's pencil drawings of old olive trees (circa 1940). The olive tree is a kind of metaphor for the Jewish people, although Palestinian artists also adopted Moshe Castel, Olive Harvest, 1928, oil on canvas the olive tree as a national symbol, Walid Abu Shakra for example. At the same time, we find the sanctification of the ancient olive tree, broken-branched but surviving, whose trunk resembles the figure of a prophet or of Jesus, as in the charcoal drawings of Leopold Krakauer from circa 1930. Let us note now: Sigalit Landau approaches young olive trees that are experiencing abuse. At the same time, she still sanctifies the olive grove.
Anna Ticho, Olive Tree, 1940, graphite on paper | Walid Abu Shakra, Olive Tree in Al-Nasab Area, 2011, Drypoint | Leopold Krakauer, Jesus-Tree, 1941, pastel on paper
The year 2012 saw quite a few cases of settlers destroying Palestinian olive trees in the West Bank. For years, the idyll of Jewish settling in the Land of Israel has become a tragedy of harassment and expropriation. In 2012, settlers in Samaria even tried to claim that it was left-wing activists who were cutting down the trees as a way of creating provocations and incitement against the political Right 1 ... It was in that year that Sigalit Landau arrived at the enormous olive grove of Kibbutz Revivim in the Negev and created a number of video art works on the subject of the olive harvest.
Following are some thoughts on harvest. The olive grove in Revivim covers 890 acres and is a corporation that is a global partnership of Kibbutz Revivim and the giant Red Oil company from Iowa, USA. Here, in Revivim, olives are grown for food and oil. The harvesters in the southern kibbutz are Palestinian workers. Sigalit chose a few of them, dressed them in T-shirts she had prepared in advance and videotaped the harvesters attaching the shaker machines to the trunks, spreading plastic sheets under the trees, beating the reluctant branches with their sticks, dragging the sheets with the olives, etc. The four photographs shown in the current exhibition were printed from these tapes.
The four photographs are "Whips", "Assault", "Children of the Sun" and "She Who Dwells in the Gardens". The idyllic image was converted into a "battle" image: Two Palestinian workers (wearing hats, their faces covered as protection from the sun) attack the olive trees, swinging long, thin, spear-like poles against the branches from which the olives will fall to the ground onto plastic sheets. Strong rays of sunshine emerge from the trees like a mystical revelation. Thus in "Whips", "Children of the Sun" and "Assault" (here only one worker attacks the olive trees with his stick in the face of the intense sunshine). In the photo "She Who Dwells in the Gardens", two workers are seen on the left, while the center represents masses of olives that have accumulated on the plastic sheets near the trees and the shaker machine. A misty light, or perhaps dust, still emerges from between the trees.
While the names "Whips" and "Assault" signify the documented "violent" action (and compare to real violence in the acts of Jews cutting and uprooting the Palestinian olive trees in the Occupied Territories), the names "Children of the Sun" and "She Who Dwells in the Gardens" are even more ironic: "Children of the Sun" is, as you may recall, the name of the Israeli film from 2007, which documented the first generation of children in 1 Channel 7, Internet, 15.10.2012.
Shared kibbutz education, the first children born in Israel in the early 20th century and educated in the light of utopian kibbutz ideology. Now, the "Children of the Sun" are the Palestinian workers, employed in the scorching sun by a kibbutz, founded (like the entire kibbutz movement) on the idea of independent work, not to mention on the opposition to the employment of cheap proletarian labor... "She Who Dwells in the Gardens" is, of course, a quote from Song of Solomon 8:13 ("She Who Dwells in the
Gardens, companions are listening for your voice…") - - A hint of the idyll of love, as well as an ironic hint of listening to the voice of the Other ... However, the title of the photo also quotes the name of Chaim Hazaz's book from 1944, a novel about the life of Yemenite Jews in Jerusalem during World War I. In other words, a novel about the "others" in Jewish society, the title of which is now used to describe other "others"... It is worth noting that "She Who Dwells in the Gardens" (Ha-Yoshevet Ba-Ganim) is also the name of a guesthouse in the Hermesh settlement in the Occupied Territories.
Sigalit Landau has been preoccupied with the condition of Palestinian laborers in Israel since the beginning of her artistic career. In 1995, in a group exhibition ("ArtFocus") curated by Sarit Shapira at the new central bus station in south Tel Aviv, Landau broke down a wall and exposed a hiding room and a handful of objects of a
Palestinian worker, an illegal resident. The artist stayed in the exhibition space throughout the exhibition. In the same year, her exhibition at the Israel Museum ("TempleMount") included a partially burnt "laborer's tent". In 1997, at the Venice Biennale, she presented a container allegedly used as an improvised living space of an illegal resident (here Landau expanded her identification with foreign workers in general, referring to two Thai workers who sneaked into a container in an attempt to reach Europe and froze to death in it). In her environmental work at the Berlin KW, she identified with Turkish migrant workers. These are just a few examples of Sigalit Landau's artistic standing alongside workers' rights in general (see the work shoes, which were crystallized in salt in the Dead Sea and then sunk in 2011 in the waters of the Gulf of Gdańsk by the Polish Solidarity movement) and Palestinian workers in particular. Photographs of the olive harvest join these acts of solidarity.
The video work, "Four Entered the Orchard", shows four olive trees shaken by force of a shaker machine, while countless olives fall on the spread plastic sheets and create a cloud of dust. The beat of the artist's heart is soon replaced by the noise of the shaker machines, which sounds like a barrage of shots. The trees tremble, vibrate, go wild in a frenzy, and the whole sight is like a horrible earthquake. The clearly violent shaking of the olive trees calls the viewer's awareness of the shaking procedure of Palestinians in ISA (Israeli Security Agency) investigations (although the High Court banned the shaking of detainees in 1999, the method did not stop, as evidenced by the petitions of the various civil movements). No less, the echoes of violence from the Occupied Territories are heard in the barrage of "firing" of the machines, while the artist's heartbeat signifies identification, both romantic and critical. Nevertheless, in the transition from the four photographs to the video, the manual labor of the workers was converted into a machine, which makes the workers redundant. At the same time, the headline, "Four Entered the Orchard," with its clear Talmudic reference, takes us back to the character of the "Other" (Elisha ben Avuya), as well as to his colleague, Ben Zoma, who "peeked and was harmed": Sigalit Landau gives us a "peek" in order for us to "get harmed."
The use of the machine as a critical marker of the kibbutz movement is remembered from Sigalit Landau's environmental work at KW in Berlin, 2008, which featured a conveyor-belt dishwashing machine, of the type used in kibbutz dining rooms. The collective has been translated into technology and mechanical action. This use of the machine connects us to the other video in the Olive Harvest series, to the "Window" washing machine: The round window of a washing machine shows us a spin of laundry. Sigalit Landau washes the workers' shirts from the olive harvest, after being soiled with the heavy dust of the harvest work. Spinning machines are a recurring motif in the artist's works, such as the large cotton candy machine (into which she
entered naked) in Manhattan in 2000. One also recalls the concrete-mixer truck, which has apparently become an "ice cream machine" (on which the artist rides, giving out popsicles to children), from the work "Sleepwalking" shown in Exeter, England in 2000. The (non-mechanical) spinning motion was also used by Landau in Hula-Hoop from 1999, when she spun a barbed wire hoop around her naked body in an oriental
dance-like motion. Now, the Palestinian workers' shirts are spinning in the machine as a "laundering act" (as in laundering words or information). Like the artist's machines, the individuality of the workers is erased in the washing mash, and the viewer's gaze at the act of "cleansing" through the "window" is a gaze of denial.
And yet, the word "bridge" (in English) appears on one of the shirts. Along with the "mediation" (in Hebrew the term is "bridging") for the Salt Bridge project between Israel and Jordan, that Sigalit Landau has been working on in the last decade, the word signifies hope for a future bridging between the occupying people and the occupied people. The very fact of the artist's walk into the olive grove is an entry into the space of a symbol of peace, which also serves as the symbol of the State of Israel. Unless, of course, Landau is entering the sphere of injustice of "My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside…" (Isaiah 5:1)
In 1999, Dani Karavan displayed two adjacent olive trees inside the hall of the Pecci
Museum in Prato, Italy: one planted in a cone-shaped pile of soil, the other hanging from the ceiling upside down, its uprooted roots facing upwards and its top pointing
downwards. The olive tree, the symbol of having a hold on the land, has over the years become a symbol for both Israelis and Palestinians, and a conflicting object in the struggle for settlement in Judea and Samaria: | Dani Karavan, Planted Olive Tree Next To Inverted Olive Tree, 1999 Jewish settlers have uprooted Palestinian olive groves, while the latter declare land ownership on the ground by planting olive groves.
In Dani Karavan's work the planted olive tree has served as a symbol of peace
among the peoples of the Middle East, ever since he planted an olive tree in 1976 as part of his exhibition at the Venice Biennale. Now, the duality of the planted-uprooted is lamenting the dream of peace that was cut off / the Yigal Tumarkin, Definition of an Olive Tree, 1981 uprooted by endless Middle East violence, just as it is pointing a critical finger to the lack of a sufficiently active peace policy on the part of Israeli government. Between 1982-1981, Yigal Tumarkin created a number of multi-material sculptures around olive trees, both in Jerusalem and in the village of Araba. The artist came to this village on Land Day, 1981, and at the foot of and around an ancient olive tree, he created "Definition of an Olive Tree". In a sketch for this work, Tumarkin defined the olive tree as a "symbol of coexistence," in his own words, while encircling the tree with stones, from which an iron cable stretched diagonally to the tree with colored pieces of cloth tied to it. An Arab clay jar containing water was placed on the ground outside the circle,
And next to it, a weapon was buried in the ground. The entire installation had a seating area, in which the viewer was supposed to sit alone, observe and reflect.
In approximately 2006, Yael Bartana created a video, in which a young Arab man is seen rowing a boat towards the Andromeda rock in Jaffa and placing an olive tree seedling on it, which he carried with him in his boat.
Sigalit Landau's Olive Harvest works from 2012 thus connect to an old, respected and rich Israeli artistic tradition, in which the painted or real olive tree functions as a symbol of the rights and violent struggle of two peoples on the land, and at the same time functions as a symbol of peace (and the end of calamity, if we remember the olive branch carried by the dove to Noah at the end of the flood). In this context, let us add: the T-shirts that Sigalit Landau made for the Palestinian harvest workers carried wing images on their backs. These are the "angels" from the exhibition titled "The Angels' Laundromat", which the artist presented in 2012 at the Givon Gallery, Tel Aviv (where the video, "The Window" was screened). And here we have an unexpected encounter between Landau's harvesting "angels" and the angels of Jacob's ladder in Reuven Rubin's harvest painting...
We must conclude with Agi Mishol's poem from 2002, "Olive Tree" (and thanks to Avner Pinchover for the reference):
Shafted, stuck among three coconut palms trimmed with a building contractor's sense of humor. in a layer of gravel from the Home Depot Nor can they fathom their roots groping in the middle of a junction turned overnight in foreign soil into a square. clutching mother earth Motorists hurrying home like provisions from home see it perhaps through clay pots since the soldiers cut them down tilting over, The olives, offered and unwanted, blacken but they have no time for the twisted story my face
that rises from its trunk or the flat top of the tree and no miniature roses will divert my heart from the shame." (Translation: Lisa Katz)